We had quite a series of storms in late December and early January. The Sierra foothills, where I live, didn’t suffer major flooding or mudslides, but there were lots of downed trees, power outages, and some washed-out roads.
Some nearby towns in the Central Valley, however, got some of the worst flooding in California. That includes Merced, which is about an hour’s drive from us, and Planada, a small town we regularly pass through on the way to Merced. The entire town of Planada was evacuated for two days earlier this month due to flooding.
The good news is that the rain and snow have helped to ease the state’s drought. No one is declaring the drought over, but the situation is certainly looking better. Yosemite Valley averages 36.8 inches of rain annually, 75% of that falling between November and March. Since the start of the official rainfall season on October 1st last year, the valley has received 40.9 inches. So that’s already more than the entire yearly average. And the snowpack at higher elevations is healthy, with over 100 inches of snow on the ground in Tuolumne Meadows.
As a photographer, I’m usually happy to see storms and interesting weather. But perhaps surprisingly, all that rain and snow earlier this month didn’t provide many opportunities to photograph clearing storms. One storm followed on the heals of another, with few breaks. And when the storms did clear briefly it often happened in the middle of the day, or at night. Plus, on a couple of occasions Highway 140 between my house and Yosemite Valley was closed due to rockslides, so I would have needed to make a four-hour roundtrip to get to the valley. (140 is only partially open now, with one-way controlled traffic between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., and closed completely at night, while Caltrans clears a large rockslide.)
But I did manage to catch a couple of clearing storms, once on a moonlit night, another shortly after sunrise. And while the atmospheric rivers that inundated the state were warm, and brought mostly rain to Yosemite Valley (at only 4,000 feet elevation), the valley did get a few inches of snow here and there at the tail end of storms. I’ve included a few of my favorite images from early January here, as the storms rolled in and out of Yosemite.
Since January 15th the weather has turned dry. The sun was a rare sight for awhile, but lately it’s been appearing with startling frequency. Weather models show that a small storm might reach us on Sunday, and then, maybe, possibly, another around February 3rd. But we’ll need more. It’s nice to get a break from that relentless period of rain, but we still need more precipitation this winter to keep the snowpack healthy. Just not all at once!
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.